By: Devika Kandelwal
November 3 2020
Trump's policies aggravated an already difficult situation, further putting people at risk.
Trump's policies aggravated an already difficult situation, further putting people at risk. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, President Barack Obama’s administration realized that the US was not prepared for a pandemic. The Obama administration responded by setting up the White House National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was meant to coordinate between several agencies involved in contagion response including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Pentagon. However, under President Donald Trump's administration, his former national security adviser John Bolton moved to disband the office in 2018. In April 2018, Bolton fired Tom Bossert, the-then homeland security adviser, who, the Washington Post reported, “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks.” In May the same year, Bolton let go of the head of pandemic response, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dismantled his global health security team. Bolton claimed that the cuts were needed to streamline the National Security Council, but the team was never replaced. Moreover, each of the administration’s four budget proposals recommended slashing funding for the CDC. In 2018, the CDC cut its epidemic prevention activities, which help “train front-line workers in outbreak detection and work to strengthen laboratory and emergency response systems in countries where disease risks are greatest,” by 80 percent, noted Washington Post. Despite calls from the CDC, HHS and the National Security Council to increase funding in the fiscal year 2020 budget, the Trump administration proposed a 12 percent cut to the HHS and a 10 percent cut to the CDC, though Congress had largely rejected the proposals. Even though we are amid a pandemic, the US Office of Management and Budget in the White House’s FY 2021 proposed budget cuts of $1.2 billion to the CDC and $35 million to the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund. Reuters reported that in the months before the Coronavirus arrived, the Trump administration also cut a public health position meant to detect outbreaks in China and another program, called Predict, that tracked emerging pathogens around the globe, including coronaviruses. A 2019 ranking of countries’ disaster preparedness from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Nuclear Threat Initiative had the US at the top of the list. Still, it warned that “no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics.” Furthermore, Trump repeatedly played down the threat of the virus, often comparing it to the flu, and was slow in effectively responding to the virus. Trump admitted he knew weeks before the first confirmed US coronavirus death that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious, and “more deadly than even your strenuous flu,” and that he repeatedly played it down publicly, according to journalist Bob Woodward in his new book 'Rage.' “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said on Mar. 19, according to CNN, which obtained an audio recording of the interview between Trump and Woodward. The Washington Post also accessed the interview where Trump said, “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.” The day after the first case was confirmed in the US on Jan. 21, Trump made his first comments about the coronavirus, saying he is not concerned about a pandemic: “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. … It’s going to be just fine.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted on Feb. 5 that a briefing shows the administration isn’t taking the virus seriously enough and says it isn’t heeding calls for emergency funding. On Feb. 27, Trump said publicly, “It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” On Mar. 9, he compared it to the flu, tweeting, “Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment, there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” reported the Guardian. He repeatedly downplayed the virus at the beginning of the pandemic. A timeline of Trump’s response to the virus shows that in March, he often said that “the virus is going to go away” and “everything is under control.” If the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, reported the New York Times in May 2020. Trump ignored repeated calls for imposing a nationwide lockdown in early March. Moreover, to date, Trump has not issued a national mandate for wearing masks despite strong urging from the scientific community. Trump further claims that his travel ban on China and Europe saved thousands of people. On Jan. 31, Trump announced that from Feb. 2, non-U.S. citizens were barred from traveling from China, but there were 11 exceptions. Meanwhile, US citizens and permanent residents could still travel from China but were subject to screening and a possible 14-day quarantine. Trump’s action did not take place in a vacuum. Many airlines were canceling flights, and the Washington Post reported that at least 38 countries took similar action before or at the same time the US restrictions were put in place. Furthermore, a Washington Post examination found that his abrupt decision to place restrictions on travel from Europe led to a final viral infusion before the country was forced to shut down. Trump announced his restrictions on parts of Europe on Mar. 11, more than a month after restrictions on non-U.S. citizens coming from China. Trump announced a bar on foreign nationals’ entry from the Schengen Area, the European Union’s border-free travel zone, a 26-nation region that does not include Britain, Ireland, or 21 other European countries, including Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. He later extended the restrictions to the United Kingdom and Ireland. The CDC also botched the initial test kits it sent out, and it took weeks to fix the errors. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also took weeks to approve other tests from private labs. As supply problems came up with testing kits, swabs, reagents, machines, and more, the Trump administration resisted taking significant action — claiming it’s up to local, state, and private actors to solve the problems and that the federal government is merely a “supplier of last resort,” reported Vox. Asked about testing problems in March, Trump responded, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” In June, Trump claimed that “testing is a double-edged sword,” adding that “when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people — you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’” Trump has also consistently undermined the advice of experts, including those in his administration. When the CDC released reopening guidelines, Trump effectively told states to ignore the guidance and reopen prematurely — to “LIBERATE” their economies. When the CDC recommended masks for public use, Trump described masking as a personal choice, refused to wear one in public for months, and even suggested that people wear masks to spite him, reported Vox. Trump also promoted unproven and even dangerous approaches, at one point advocating for injecting bleach. Trump’s allies have even held up CDC studies that could contradict the president’s overly optimistic outlook. Trump has also touted out optimistic but misleading claims and statistics about the pandemic. He told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan in July that the US was doing well because it had few deaths relative to the number of cases. When Swan clarified, he was asking about deaths as a proportion of the population — a standard metric for an epidemic’s deadliness — Trump said, “You can’t do that.” He gave no further explanation. From the evidence listed above, we conclude that Trump's policies did not set a foundation for the US to survive the pandemic. Rather, these policies aggravated an already difficult situation, further putting people at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19 including symptoms, prevention and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organisation or your national healthcare authority.